The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 14, 2013

Owens, Tanner principals named top school leaders

By Kim West

— Being a principal has a myriad of responsibilities but there are also some perks to being the top administrator.

For Tanner High School Principal Billy Owens, one of the positives is being the first to sign up for the annual blood drive sponsored by the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America chapter.

On Wednesday afternoon in the gymnasium lobby, Owens sipped a soft drink as a Red Cross technician collected a unit of blood, and a roving yearbook photographer snapped candid shots.

After rolling up the sleeve of his light green sweater, a grinning Owens bounded off the donor gurney and began an enthusiastic search for his donor T-shirt.

In an announcement made by the Limestone County Schools Central Office, Owens Elementary Principal Cleo Miller is the Elementary Principal of the Year, and Owens is Secondary Principal of the Year. Both principals learned of their awards during a system-wide administrative meeting last week.

The system has sponsored a long-standing Teacher of the Year program for elementary and high school instructors but this is the first year the system has implemented a recognition program for administrators. The Central Office will also recognize top-performing support personnel this year.

Tanner principal

Owens is in his 17th year at Tanner, which has 840 students grades K-12 and 140 staff members. He is an energetic former coach and physical education teacher who led the 1986 Tanner boys basketball team to a state championship.

During his tenure, Tanner has been a NASA Explorer School and awarded the Bronze Award for top performing high schools by U.S. News & World Report. In August the school implemented Learning-Focused, a pilot program designed to improve instructional methods for teachers.

The Rattlers’ athletic program has yielded five state championships in the past three years. This year’s marching band earned superior ratings in all categories for the first time in school history, according to Owens.

“It’s been a championship year, academically and athletically. We’re very fortunate to have good students and great student-athletes, and a great staff that is very impressive,” Owens said. “I’m thrilled to be the person selected, and I have great respect for my peers — the other five secondary principals. To be selected is an honor, and I hope I can represent the system well.”

Owens principal

Miller is in her eighth year at Owens, which has 640 students grades K-5 and approximately 65 staff members. She is a soft-spoken former special education teacher, and a former Elementary Teacher of the Year at East Limestone High School.

Miller said she obtained her administrative certification in case she decided to work at the Central Office. She said she didn’t envision becoming a principal when she began teaching in 1974.

Her “ultimate goal is to enable educational personnel to fulfill the awesome responsibility of preparing children for life roles (and) careers by teaching them to be lifelong learners,” according to the school’s website.

This year Owens Elementary is participating in a digital tool learning program, and a collaborative study with the state department of education and American College Testing, which is known for its ACT college assessment.

The school was selected by ACT to pilot the new ASPIRE assessment. The test could evolve into the state’s accountability measurement, and measures student progress in grades 3-10 in math, English language arts and science.

Leadership skills

Owens and Miller have different personalities and teaching backgrounds but both were recognized for embracing challenges and being passionate about their students, according to first-year Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk.

“Ms. Miller looks for ways to be innovative and forward-thinking. She is a dynamic leader and student-centered, and a veteran instructional leader with integrity, honor and dedication,” Sisk said. “Mr. Owens is a part of the fabric of Limestone County as a veteran administrator, and an outstanding instructional leader. He has a genuine desire to do what is best for students.”

The Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools designated Owens Elementary as a Banner School in 2008, and Tanner earned the CLAS recognition for outstanding schools in 2008.

Miller and Owens will represent the Limestone school district in their respective categories in the statewide Principal of the Year contest sponsored by the Alabama Department of Education.